“I’ll be the one with the green hair and a boater’s hat,” texts Diz Foster, as we try to connect for our interview at the newly opened Plant City off South Main St in PVD, near where Escape Rhode Island hosts its many escape rooms.
One of a growing number of escape rooms in the state, Escape Rhode Island is the sort of place that locks a group of 6 to 8 people in a room and presents some kind of starting scenario, a backstory explaining how they came to be trapped and a ticking clock compelling them to escape before all is lost. To escape they must solve a series of puzzles and a key drops out, which unlocks something else in the room, which contains a riddle leading to another hidden treasure, and so on until you solve a puzzle that can open the main door and save your group.
Foster is making a custom escape room for NecronomiCon – with shorter than usual turn-around times — and pioneering experimental new puzzles and games.
“From conception you want to start with a flow chart of some sort. There are different shapes: Linear is a straight series of puzzles from start to finish. Those can be better for smaller groups, where you have people working together and don’t want to split their attention.” The escape rooms I’ve been to (at places like Escape RI, Escape Room Rhode Island, Lock & Clue, The Great Escape Room and The Riddle Room) have generally taken the other path, where everyone wanders around looking for clues that may come in handy down the line. But maybe that’s just the ADD approach favored by my friends groups. “You also want to leave the game operator room to respond to the needs of different teams. So for every game, you need to think, ‘Is this something we can give clues to if they get stuck? Can we keep the operator in character while they’re giving hints?’ Some rooms don’t like to give any hints, or only a specific number: they have a lot fewer escapes.”
For Foster, part of the fun is coming up with puzzles that are hard but not too hard. “Everything is rated in terms of time – because the entire room has a set time limit. So you measure the various puzzles in terms of how long they should take to figure out.
“The first escape room adjacent thing I was ever exposed to was Myst. And then I played a lot of the old CD-ROM games. Some of them were ridiculous! Then I started mapping out my own computer-based fantasy islands with their own puzzles,” says Foster. “With escape rooms, you’re thinking through real world applications of things, not just clicking pixels until it works.”
Those physical realities of an escape room include a lot of fabricated items – Foster and team use laser cutting and miniscule sensors that can close a circuit and cause something to happen when a participant moves the right thing to the right place, like moving a special rock atop a podium (sly hint). They also use resin cast items, 3D printed items and other custom fabrications. Foster has a degree in experimental psychology and often sees the escape room experience as a social experiment, refining puzzles, props and elements based on how escapers interact with them.
The oldest game Escape Rhode Island has running is “The Mauseleum,” which was loosely inspired by Lovecraft’s story “The Tomb.” At NecronomiCon, in the gaming section, the escape room will draw from that room and its props, while introducing new elements, experiments and a shorter narrative to allow for half-hour sessions. It will also be designed for genre fans. “For a more mainstream audience, you have to be careful not to assume what people will know. I had one group recently that spent time arguing about whether CTHULHU was spelled ‘Chihuly’ or ‘Kahlua.’” That likely won’t be a problem at NecronomiCon.
Prospective escape artists should come to the Ocean State rooms on the second floor of the Graduate Hotel during NecronomiCon gaming hours. More information and other bookings can be found at EscapeRhodeIsland.com